'Battlestar Galactica': Beyond Background Music The TV series Battlestar Galactica has been honored with awards for acting, visual effects and sound design. But the unsung character of the series has been its music — until now. Composer Bear McCreary is conducting a series of summer concerts featuring the show's music — and the performances are selling out.
NPR logo

'Battlestar Galactica': Beyond Background Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105702892/105736446" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Battlestar Galactica': Beyond Background Music

'Battlestar Galactica': Beyond Background Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105702892/105736446" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Insurgency, religious fanaticism, terrorism, technology run amok: just a few of the themes that were explored in the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica." The television series, which ran on the SciFi Channel, just ended its four-season run. The show had a relatively small but devoted audience, and part of what fueled that passion was a sci-fi score like no other.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Now, composer Bear McCreary has taken that score on the road, performing a series of live concerts this summer. Bear McCreary is at our studios at NPR West. Thanks for being here.

Mr. BEAR McCREARY (Composer): You're welcome. Thanks for having me here.

RAZ: I mean, this is really highly produced, really thought out music that had so many layers, and you're now performing it live. Was this the result of a demand by fans?

Mr. McCREARY: You know, it wasn't, even though there was a demand there. I just was kind of oblivious to it. I'd started doing this in 2006, when the Season 2 soundtrack album came out, and I performed at a little club in Los Angeles called The Mint, which has a capacity of about 120 people, maybe 150.

We had to turn people away. I was astonished that fans would want to come out and see soundtrack music for a cable TV show performed live. It's really - it's still dawning on me how many people out there are passionate about this music and appreciate it outside of the show, that they want to come hear it in concert and experience it together.

It's a really communal experience. And for a lot of the fans, it reminds them of these great moments in the series that they feel very strongly about. And for a lot of other people, it's just a really exciting ethnic, rock, pop, soundtrack, classical concert. I mean, it's a very unusual and eclectic mix of instruments. So, it really functions both ways, which is very exciting for me.

RAZ: You talk about sort of this ethnic sound. I mean, it's a very Eastern sound sometimes, but then you've got bagpipes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCREARY: My philosophy was that it would be music from as many different cultures around the world as possible. So, while there is a lot of Japanese and Chinese influence, there's also a lot of Middle Eastern influence, there's South American and African sounds. There's a lot of purely Western sounds. It's a very - it's an unusual mix.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Ever since "Star Wars," most sci-fi has had this sort of brassy orchestra behind it, but you're using bagpipes and drums and fiddles. It's a completely different sound. How did you come up with this kind of sound?

Mr. McCREARY: Well, I must confess that the idea started before a composer was ever hired. The producers felt very strongly when they did the miniseries that started this whole series that they wanted to differentiate from the old "Battlestar" and that orchestral bombast that people have associated with science fiction for, you know, over 30 years now.

So, they insisted no orchestra. And in fact, one of the things that happened was in the beginning, I really only had three or four instruments at my disposal, and keep in mind that at the end of the series, we scored the final episode with about a 60-piece orchestra and 10 or 15 soloists. So, you're talking about 75, 80 musicians. So, it obviously evolved and grew.

RAZ: This series, to say the least, is bleak at times. I mean, at times, there's absolutely no hope, and you're sort of thinking to myself, why am I watching this show? Why am I doing this to myself? But then a piece of music comes along, and it really fits the action so perfectly, it's almost devastating.

(Soundbite of song, "The Shape of Things to Come")

RAZ: This is a piece of music titled "The Shape of Things to Come."

Mr. McCREARY: This was a piece in the series, was a scene that was undeniably taking us into a new realm. It was taking us to this place of divinity and sort of almost a religious euphoria as this character has this vision of beauty, and it was in the midst of tragedy. It was in the midst of a - they had survived this brutal crash on a planet, and they crawled out of the flaming wreckage, and he has this vision. And I wanted to write something that reflected only the beauty of what was going on in his mind.

This theme resonated so strongly with audiences that in fact it has come back throughout the course of this series in very few places, but just the most powerful, emotional places. And in fact, the last, big orchestral cue that I wrote for the series, for the second-to-last scene, was this piece. I brought it back.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: One of the major plot devices in the last season is actually the music, of course, and you adapt the melody to Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower."

Mr. McCREARY: Well, it's even more complex than that because what happened is Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" was featured in Season 3. And there's actually a melody that is my original theme that we wove into the - in between the lyrics of his song, and that melody became a thematic device that I used all throughout Season 4.

I can imagine someone who's listening to this that hasn't seen "Battlestar Galactica" is probably now scratching they head going, wait, (unintelligible) drums, bagpipes, "All Along the Watchtower." But yes, it really was as weird as it sounds.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. McCREARY: That 12-note theme ends up dictating the very end of the series. In the final episode, that - those 12 notes are not only heard by a character but influence how the show ends. And I won't say how it ends, but if you had told me, you know, in the beginning that I'd be writing a 12-note little melody that would literally dictate where this series goes, I would have never believed it. It's an absurd concept.

It's an extremely weird situation where you have characters aware of music that prior to that episode, only the audience was aware on. I mean, to me it's almost like if you can imagine Luke Skywalker whistling the theme to "Star Wars," you know what I mean? It sounds absurd, but it really worked. It was very powerful and very emotional.

RAZ: And in some of your recent live shows, you even had some of the stars from the show on.

Mr. McCREARY: Yes.

RAZ: Katee Sackhoff, who plays Starbuck, has been on stage with you.

Mr. McCREARY: Yes. In fact, Katee in particular was exciting because Starbuck's one the characters in the episode I was describing who played the piano, and there was a scene where she plays a duet with this other character. And she and I essentially recreated that scene where I was playing the music that I had written in the left hand, and she was playing this 12-note theme in the right hand, and it was exactly as it had happened on screen. It was a really magical moment and an incredibly powerful experience for me and one that I hope we get to keep doing as time goes on.

Bear McCreary composed the music for "Battlestar Galactica" and is now scoring the new SciFi Channel series "Caprica." You can catch the music of "Battlestar Galactica" live in July at the House of Blues in San Diego. Bear McCreary, thanks for being with us.

Mr. McCREARY: Thank you so much. It's been great.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

RAZ: You can listen to tracks from "Battlestar Galactica" and find a link to Bear McCreary's music blog. Go to our Web site, npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.